Schwitters, Kurt

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Kurt Schwitters

Hanover, Germany, 1887

Ambleside, United Kingdom, 1948


Between 1908 and 1909, Kurt Schwitters attended the Hanover School of Arts and Crafts and then, until 1914, he studied at the Dresden Academy of Art. As early as 1912 he participated in the exhibitions regularly organized by the Hanover Art Circle: the Great Art Exhibition and the Autumn Salon.

In 1917 he was summoned to the army, however he was soon expelled. In June that same year he began working at the Wülfel Iron and Steel Works in Hanover as an industrial draughtsman, a position he left during the 1918 revolution. Then, despite his financial difficulties, he studied architecture for two semesters. In 1918 he exhibited works in a cubo-futurist style at the Der Sturm gallery in Berlin, which marked his appearance on the German avant-garde scene. That same year he met Hans Arp.

After the war, in 1919 he elaborated his first assemblages and collages from small pieces of wood, newspaper clippings, streetcar tickets and other scrap materials, which were transfigured into his works by the incorporation of color or the addition of words or phrases. “You can scream with scraps of garbage -he declared- and I did this by gluing and nailing these scraps together. I called them Merz, they were like my prayer for the victorious end of the war […]”. The word “Merz” came from the fortuitous mutilation of “Kommerz” that had appeared in one of his collages. At the same time, Schwitters gave lectures and organized Merz evenings in Germany, Holland and Czechoslovakia.

As well as creating his own avant-garde movement, he held close ties with the Zurich and Berlin Dadaists. In 1922, through Theo van Doesburg, he met the Dutch De Stijl group. The imprint of the geometric art of the Dutch and the exhibition of contemporary Russian art that he had seen in Berlin, led him to approach constructivism. In September that same year he organized a dada-meeting with Arp in Weimar.

In the mid-twenties, he organized his Merz-Werbezentrale, working successfully as a consultant and advertising designer for large industrial firms in Hanover and the municipality. His income as an advertising designer and typographer went largely back into the Merz magazine, which he edited between 1923 and 1932 and where he spread the spirit of Dadaism, as well as contributing to the modernization of typography and graphic design.

During the thirties he participated in the activities of the Cercle et Carré group and in 1932 he joined Abstraction-Création. In 1937, due to the pressure exerted by the Nazis, he emigrated to Norway. Both there and in England, where he went in 1940, he earned his living painting landscapes and commissioned portraits.

Noemi de Haro